R. K. Narayan | Critical Review by Donald Barr

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of R. K. Narayan.
This section contains 607 words
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Critical Review by Donald Barr

SOURCE: "Three Minds in Trouble," in New York Times Book Review, May 19, 1957, p. 4.

In the following review, Barr lauds Narayan's The Printer of Malgudi for its comedy and subtlety.

The town of Malgudi, fermenting with dreams, is the setting R. K. Narayan has devised for his novels of life in modern India. They have all been charming novels—modest in dimensions, gentle both in laughter and in pain, alive with an easy eccentricity—and the latest of them, The Printer of Malgudi, is something more than charming.

It is the subtle story of three minds and six wild universes. These universes of philosophy, influence, art, love, sudden glory and vainglory have a kind of unearthly abundance. They keep no books. They are made of hopes. Kipling's puritan God of Things as They Are does not preside over any of them. The three minds are not geniuses but the brains of little bubbling, faltering fellows with complaining families and the ordinary male's mixture of remorse and absent-mindedness.

Srinivas, over whose shoulder we watch the story, is an editor, or rather a weekly philosopher, who is enabled to write his provincial magazine only by vigorously neglecting his wife and refusing to open any letter that might be a bill. Srinivas' young friend, Ravi, is a love-torn accountant with a brilliant talent for drawing one picture, the image of a girl with a gem in her earlobe and a highlight on her cheek whom he once saw and has never been able to find again. Srinivas' printer, Sampath, is a masterly first-impressionist, in whose spacious gestures and rich evasive words a creaky press and one exhausted boy somehow become a big establishment, and who moves among the imaginations of his friends like some minor deity.

These three are seduced from their own dreams into another, more vivid and less innocent hallucination: they go into producing a film. Each finds here an awful, prosperous travesty of his desires. Passion leaves Ravi mentally deranged; success leaves Sampath morally deranged; only the philosopher Srinivas escapes, and he is not unscathed.

The story is very tidy, but it is not intellectually dapper in the fashion of a French novel. It is worked out in the English style with seemingly unstudied detail that covers the almost allegorical outline. And there is in the writing something that is distinctively Mr. Narayan's, though it may be a trait of his Hindu origins: he moves so naturally and unapologetically into strange incidents and speeches that he seems without our noticing it to enlarge our powers of fancy. His is a delightful and as yet not wholly recognized talent.

It is a comic talent of a special kind. Conventional comedy shows us a world where there is no real and present pain and where every man has his price. In ordinary farce there are thwacks and betrayals and even death, but we are kept at an ironical distance from the characters, so that blood is merely red ink and agony merely a grimace. In ordinary dramatic or sentimental comedy we are close to the characteristics but real pain is not. In Mr. Narayan's world there is farcical violence and dismay, and we are deeply involved in the characters, yet we never go beyond a certain buoyant pathos into tragedy.

Life in ordinary comedies is continually making good men shrug and retract what they thought were their principles; only villains and fanatics and sour fools adhere to their stated purposes. Mr. Narayan's dreamers do preserve their principles, or at least they recover them, but they are not contemptible. He accomplishes in his mild way what Cervantes and Dickens did, a comedy of innocence.

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This section contains 607 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Donald Barr